Piano Quartet No. 1 by Gerald Barry

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Piano Quartet No. 1 by Gerald Barry

  • This piano quartet was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts and first performed in London in 1992.

  • Violin, Viola, Cello and piano used

  • Example of Twentieth century contemporary music.

Inspirations from traditional Irish melodies:

  • Sí Bheag Sí Mhór

  • Lord Mayo

  • ‘Tis the last Rose of Summer

  • Beidh Aonach Amárach

-Fuses these melodies with his own individual style, extra notes added and taken away, and original melodies become almost unrecognisable.

-Boundaries of music pushed, instruments played in different styles, no tonal centre, no actual form, detailed performing directions.

-Abstract music – it does not tell a story 

-Instrumental line more important than instrumental colour to Barry

-Quartet begins and ends with music that is heard only once

-Section C is central dominant material, occurs 9 times, yet never exact repetition


  • Creates contrasting textures with strings

  • Doubles string parts – very often

  • Plays one, or more, voices in canon

  • Introduces dissonance

  • Plays note cluster

  • Solo section – “Hommage Á horowitz”

Instruments techniques

  • Open strings

  • Hand clusters on piano

  • Harmonics – delicate wispy sound

  • Détaché – detached – separate bow for each note

  • Flautando – bow over the fingerboard


  • Quartet – one movement – 18 sections

  • Eight different themes – (4 appear only once)

  • A         B1       C1       C2       B2       C3       D1       D2+D3           E1

  • C4       C5       E2+D3            C6       C7       F+C8              C9       G         H

  • Unusual form – does not fit any standard form

  • No recapitulation

  • Ends with 3 new sections – F G and H – very unusual

  • Unusual rondo form – because of constant recurrence of C


  • Mainly atonal

  • Section A (based on Sí bheag sí mhór) is pentatonic – no 7th notes, uses only 4th in final bars

  • B and B1 refer to key of C with a recurring C sharp

  • C1 in A flat

Rhythmic Features

  • Over 330 time signature changes 

  • Unusual time signatures – 1/8, 5/8

  • Complex rhythmic patterns

  • Irregular rhythms and irregular patterns

  • Polymetry – combining different metres simultaneously

  • Metronome marks for tempo changes.

Compositional Features

  • Canon-eg 4 part canon on inversion of “Sí bheag sí mhór”

  • Retrograde-melody played backwards

  • Augmentation-notes values are lengthened, usually doubled eg. C8

  • Diminution-notes value are shortened eg. B1 notes are halved in B3

  • Inversion-melody turned upside down eg, “Sí Bheag Si Mhór” in section A

  • Counterpoint-combining 2 themes – polyphonic eg D2 and B3

Section A

  • Based on inversion of “Sí Bheag Sí Mhór"

  • Four part canon at distance of a crotchet, yet all begin at same time

  • Feeling of C major

  • Mainly ¾, but time signature changes

Contemporary features

  • Harmonics

  • Open strings

  • Canon at distance of a crotchet

  • Time signature changes

Non-contemporary features

  • Instruments

  • Use of canons

  • Repetition

  • Range

  • Staccato

  • 2 bass clefs

Section A1

  • Starts to develop

  • Loud dynamics

  • Very high register and wide range

  • Piano entirely in bass cleft

  • Five part canon

  • Harmonics – open strings

  • Very polyphonic

  • Two part piano

  • Page repeated, louder 2nd time.

Section B

  • Key of C major with a persistent C sharp.

  • Atonal

  • Homophonic

  • Rhythmic melody on violin, starts with an upbeat in ¾ time

  • Drone like staccato two note pattern on viola – like hurdy gurdy

  • Slower speed

  • Sudden change of time signature to 5/8 – instability and imbalance

  • Cello part is inversion of viola two note pattern.

  • Repeated from bar 72 with cello added

  • From bar 90, melody is repeated on all 3 string instruments, playing an octave apart.

  • Melody repeated without accompaniment

  • Piano plays hand clusters, span of 2 octaves

  • Dynamics very loud

Section C1

  • Strings only

  • Polyphonic

  • 2 melodies – violin and viola

  • Feeling of A flat

  • Flow of melodies interrupted by abrupt time signature changes

  • Harmonics on cello

  • repeated an octave lower

  • piano introduced

  • Takes music from “Tis the last rose of summer”

  • Louder and faster

  • Piano doubles string parts

Section C2

  • Based on C1 

  • Atonal

  • Violin and viola melodies

  • Polyphonic

  • Slower

  • Softer dynamics

  • Wedging and splicing

  • No piano

Section B2

  • B section melody played 5 times in canon creating polyphonic texture, varied, slightly different each time

  • Three part canon at distance of crotchet

  • Very loud

  • Viola, violin and cello

  • Three part canon on strings

  • Piano doubles string parts at the octave in bass clef

  • Three part canon in 5ths at octave on strings and piano

  • Violin and viola doubles, cello and piano R.H doubled with LH piano in 5ths

  • Double stopping on violin

  • Soft dynamics and light articulation

  • Repeat of canon from previous part

  • Drone effect using adjacent open strings

  • Pedal note D in cello

  • Double stopping on strings

  • Very loud

Section C3

  • Based on four different versions of C

  • Gets louder an faster each time

  • Polyphonic

  • Viola and cello repeat C2 with descant melody on violin

  • Violin doubles cello part at intervals of 2nd and 7th – dissonance

  • Slow, Quieter, No piano

  • Single fragmented piano line, doubles some strings parts at interval of 2nd

  • Faster and louder than previous

  • Double stopping

  • Higher pitch – cello in treble clef

  • Both melodies doubles at dissonant intervals on piano in bass clef

  • Faster an louder

  • Violin higher

  • Piano LH doubles RH at interval of 2nd

Section C4

  • Hommage á Horowitz

  • Piano solo – only instrument with solo section

  • Very very loud

  • Derived from C melodies

  • Both hands play in octaves

  • Homophonic

  • Flamboyant

  • Dedicated to Horowitz a Russian pianist

Section C5

  • Shortened version of C3

  • Slower

  • 3 part canon distance of a crotchet

  • Soft dynamics

  • Changing time signatures

  • No piano

  • Canon repeated at bar 415 with some notes left out

Section C6

  • 3 part canon at distance of a quaver

  • C6 is C5 up a semi-tone and shortened

  • Instruments technique flautando used - Played on finger board giving a wispy sound

  • Polyphonic

  • Soft dynamics

Section C7

  • Based on C material but sounds like a new section – contrasts, different speed and dynamics

  • Cello based on one of original C melodies

  • Canon in violin and viola based on inversion of C6

  • Piano doubles string parts

  • Notes added at distance of 2nds 4ths and 5ths – adds dissonance

  • Polyphonic

  • Faster

  • Double stopping adds to intensity

  • Higher pitch, accelerates then stops suddenly

Section F + C8

  • One bar rest, then new material, F, on violin 

  • Triplets I melody, jig rhythm, Irish dance music

  • Piano part is retrograde of F melody

  • C material heard in augmentation (longer notes) on viola and cello

  • Polyphonic

  • Different time signatures used simultaneously – polymetry

Section C9

  • One bar rest then 3 part canon two octaves distance of crotchet on strings

  • Shortest and slowest version of C

  • Polyphonic

  • Wide distance between parts, high pitch in violin, low pitch in cello

Section G

  • New music but derived from rest of quartet

  • Telescoping – complete work in nine bars by taking notes from beginning an end of each section

  • Homophonic

  • Very fast

  • Very loud with accented notes

  • Constantly changing time signatures

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